Thursday, July 23, 2009


I discussed character a couple of posts ago, and how it exists more so in the eyes than any other element of the cartoon construct.

After working on Red Hot Riding Hood for a number of days, I think that requires a qualification. John Kricfalusi (who recently posted about Betty Boop), the creator of Ren & Stimpy and the Ripping Friends, is something of a cartoon evangelist. He is a true believer in the hardest sense. He is hyper-critical of most modern animation, sacrifices animals to a shrine for Tex Avery, and says that the best cartoons use the cartoon medium to express character and story through graphic manipulation not possible in reality.

This is actually somewhat necessary, since an animator can never capture the multitude of minute details in reality that bring life to our perceptions. They must exaggerate and extend beyond the bounds of physical possibility to capture the finer details in a gross fashion. So while I stand by my statement that the eyes make the character, the best animators use the full breadth of design, warping, and motion to capture character within the entirety of the construct.

Compared to simplistic designs and rigid animation, like Freddy from Scooby Doo, the more advanced characters literally pop off the screen. There is zero character in the body and motion of simpler constructs. Take for example, this very early Betty Boop cartoon (and also witness Cab Calloway performing moves that Michael Jackson would later take to the moon).

Watch the warping, the fact that appendages and facial features rarely ever maintain aspect ratios for more than a few frames. Arms grow and shrink, eyes double in size, and, perhaps obviously, his head turns into a phonograph. It looks crude by today's standards, but it's actually much more skilled and more advanced than Scooby Doo and most of the television animation being produced today. Everything bleeds character, as opposed to animation today, like anime. Character in anime constructs exists almost entirely in the color of the hair.

This actually all gets to the point. Betty Boop's design, being very bold, translated easily into mathematical representations of lines called vectors, which are perfect lines. Tex Avery was so good, that the character of Red Hot Riding Hood exists in the very fluctuations of the ink. Translating the lines into perfect vectors robs a great deal of the character. It is proving very, very difficult to faithfully capture everything that Avery injected into Red. I guess that my stumbling is a testament to the skill of the golden age cartoonists.

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